Why handwashing poetry?

Poetry is a way of enriching time, of squeezing from a moment more than a moment's juice. That same fortified time can come from music, from the experience of a great painting or sculpture, from an exquisite bite of food, but unlike all of those poetry may be memorized by any of us, carried in the mind, and used to sweeten whatever moments we may find that need it.

In Argentina and other parts of Latin America, in Persia, and other places around the world, poetry is woven into the spiritual fabric of all levels of society. Even in societies that are not so saturated, fragments pervade (such as Shelley's "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair" or Shakespeare's "Out, out, damned spot!").

Sometimes poetry is called to enrich large, harsh periods of time, as of a European officer in the early 20th century reciting to himself the pages and pages of Homer that he had memorized as an anodyne to the horror of the trenches. A great work is needed to enliven a brutalist, concrete expanse.

Most opportunities—thankfully!—are small. Our lives are filled with little, throwaway spaces, like washing our hands. We are guided to treat them banally, such as singing Happy Birthday twice. Instead, these small moments can be like the cracks and alleys of a lived in street, ornamented instead of ignored. Each of these inbetweens is an opportunity for enrichment, and each of us is given dozens each day.

Enriching small gaps in space can be modest: a beautiful bowl and a few pieces of fruit left on a table, a worn chair set in the scrap of shade of a street corner, a small religious icon hung in the gap between market stalls.

In the same way, small poems can be used to enrich our small moments. We just have to have them available to us. So first we must return to them often enough that they are etched in our memory. Posting a poem on your mirror lets you enrich the moments of handwashing, and provides enough opportunities to set it in your mind, and, in small slices of enriched time, you gain a treasure to carry to other small moments. Then another poem goes on the mirror, and you begin on the construction of another treasure for yourself.

Put it on a shared mirror. We all know the pleasure of a conversation capped by the apropos quote, the perfect aphorism, and the loneliness of no one else getting it. Poetry woven into a culture gifts its members with a wealth of reference and capstone. Poems shared are poems empowered. With enough poems on enough mirrors, our shared small moments can brim with life.

Start with a sample. Put it on your mirror. Take care of the small spaces in your life.

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